New York, Feb 12 : "There was no hesitation on the English-language service of Al Jazeera, which covered the Egyptian uprising 24 hours a day and provided an up-close, almost personal experience of populist revolt. At times, the coverage looked less like a front-row seat to history than a video game — World of Warcraft: Anti-Mubarak Edition", writes The New York Times.
"It was Al Jazeera's victory as well, of course, and that struggle was also fought live on television over the last 18 days, though more subliminally. The Mubarak government, which repeatedly tried to block the Arabic-language channel, treated Al Jazeera as an enemy that incited the protesters", writes NYT.
"Al Jazeera English seemed intent on using the upheaval in Egypt to assume the kind of authoritative role that CNN had during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The network fought back — with impassive resistance. Throughout the crisis, its correspondents covering the protests tried to hold themselves to a strict neutrality that even CNN reporters didn't feign", says NYT.
Most viewers in the United States can't watch Al Jazeera English on television — though Link TV recently began simulcasting live programming for 12 hours a day. But lots of people are frustrated with the short attention span and distractions of American news programs. (On Thursday, when Mubarak was supposed to resign and didn't, cable news programs were underscored with crawls about Kelsey Grammer's divorce and Jennifer Hudson's weight.)
As they did at the height of the Iraq war, many Americans chose to watch foreign newscasts, in particular streams of BBC World News and Al Jazeera English, reports NYT.
Sometimes, it paid off. On Thursday, when the world expected Mr. Mubarak to step down, MSNBC was so convinced of it that it kept the words “Egyptian President to Step Down” on the screen several minutes into Mr. Mubarak's speech announcing he wasn't leaving.
Hours earlier, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo, Ayman Mohyeldin, was asked whether he thought Mr. Mubarak would indeed depart. The correspondent said he thought it was unlikely that the Egyptian dictator would relinquish power so easily. And when he turned out to be right, Mr. Mohyeldin remained poker-faced and soft-spoken as he covered the protesters' enraged reaction.
Writes The New York Times:
"It took 18 days to shake the world, but this time the revolution was shown live.
"People around the globe watched Egyptians rise up in an unarmed insurrection. They looked on, gobsmacked, as the Mubarak dictatorship crumbled on camera. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 didn't quite have the same hypnotic pull and roller-coaster suspense — this was a long vigil that carried a constant threat of mass violence in high definition.
"And when the end came on Friday, it was peaceful and so abrupt that American television put on its own kind of five-second delay.
"All the cable news channels were focused on Cairo from early morning; broadcast networks interrupted their regular programming to go live to Cairo when the news hit. But it wasn't until the crowds on the streets of the city went berserk that viewers could be sure that they had heard right. CNN's instantaneous translator was so stunned as he took in Vice President Omar Suleiman's words that he faltered and repeated President Hosni Mubarak's name three times.
"Some anchors seemed uncertain about what had just happened. A puzzled Richard Lui of MSNBC turned to the correspondent Richard Engel in Cairo and asked him what he could “glean” from Mr. Suleiman's brief statement. Mr. Engel paused and grinned as a wave of joy rose up from Tahrir Square below him.
Meanwhile, the BBC Persian Service radio complained that its service was jammed by the Iranian government to prevent people in Iran to listen to western reporting about the Egyptian unrest.